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Motorola’s ThinkPhone is the coolest phone of CES 2023 — but you can’t buy it

This is the ThinkPhone by Motorola. It has great specs and a sweet-looking, highly nostalgic design that taps into the classic IBM ThinkPad craze of the 1990s.

It’s a Motorola phone you’ll actually want to buy, possibly without thinking twice. If you’ve followed Motorola’s other smartphones as of late, you’ll know that’s not something that happens very often. Unfortunately, just when Motorola made an eye-catching, tantalizing smartphone, it’s one that the company probably won’t let you get your hands on.

It’s all about business

It’s not that the ThinkPhone is only available in China, or that it’s a super limited edition, or that it costs the same as a rather nice house. It’s because the ThinkPhone is a business phone, and it heads up Moto’s push into the “B2B” market, meaning it won’t be available at your local carrier’s store or unlocked online. It’s a direct play for companies that are already using — or considering — a fleet of ThinkPad laptops, and want phones to go along with them. There’s built in MDM (mobile device management) software and a suite of features aimed at tying into your corporate-issue laptop.

When asked, Motorola said that although it understands consumers would benefit from the phone’s functionality, it has no specific plans to make it a consumer product.

What is it you’re missing out on? The most striking aspect is the cool ThinkPad-inspired design. The phone’s back is made from carbon fiber with an aluminum chassis and Gorilla Glass Victus over the screen. It has been put through toughness tests to meet the military standard for MIL-STD-810H certification, plus it has an IP68 water- and dust-resistance rating. This is a tough smartphone, and the design really fits in with the ThinkPad look many know.

It feels sturdy, but strikes a balance of not being bulky or unnecessarily heavy. In the hand it feels just like any other big-screen phone with a large battery inside.

The ThinkPhone by Motorola branding is set at an angle on the back of the device, recalling the classic IBM ThinkPad style, plus there’s a red button on high on the left side — again harking back to the red navigation button on a ThinkPad laptop. On this phone, it’s a shortcut to Motorola’s Ready For suite of connectivity and productivity tools, and can also be assigned to an app of your choice. You can have the button perform a different pair of functions depending on whether you’re in a personal or work profile too, which is nice.

The Ready For suite contains features to improve how you use your phone and PC together, quickly share files, stream apps between devices, creating a hotspot, and using a shared clipboard. You can even fire up the phone’s camera and use it as a webcam for your connected laptop.

The right software and specs

The ThinkPhone runs Android 13, and Motorola promises three years of major Android version updates, along with four years of security updates. It may not quite rival Samsung and OnePlus, but it matches Google’s own update commitment, and is also far more comprehensive than some consumer Motorola phones. The phone incorporates Motorola’s ThinkShield security platform, and a new Think 2 Think dedicated security chip.

The overall specs are great. The ThinkPhone has the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 processor inside with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. The screen is a 6.6-inch, 120Hz AMOLED, punctuated by a centered hole punch camera at the top and surrounded by minimal bezels. Under the screen, there’s a fingerprint sensor to lock up your corporate data.

Plus there’s a 5,000mAh battery with wireless charging and fast charging. A 68-watt fast charger comes in the box, and has enough power to run a high-powered laptop, so you only need to carry one brick around when out and about. The camera system has a 50-megapixel main camera with optical image stabilization (OIS), a 13MP wide-angle, a depth camera, and a 32MP selfie camera.

We didn’t get to use the cameras in our limited hands-on time, but Motorola’s been able to deliver fine camera performance with a setup like this, so we’re not too concerned. If there’s one gripe here, it’s that the design of the camera pod clashes rather oddly with the slick carbon fiber back; it looks like it’s lifted straight from another phone (and it probably is).

Nostalgia, but not for you and me

If you’re wondering how Motorola is allowed to lean so heavily on the ThinkPad angle, it’s because Motorola Mobility is owned by Lenovo, which also owns the ThinkPad name, having purchased IBM’s personal computer business in 2005. Motorola itself is also no stranger to creating nostalgic products, having released several versions of a folding Razr, influenced by the classic Razr flip phone. And Lenovo still leans heavily on the ThinkPad name for its top-end (and often enterprise-focused) laptops.

But you’ll have to look at the Razr (which is also quite difficult to buy if you’re in the U.S.) if you’re truly focused on getting some kind of nostalgic fix. The ThinkPhone by Motorola will be released in January 2023 in the U.S, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and parts of Asia, but will only be available to businesses.

And it’s a shame, as it looks to be one of the most interesting, most comprehensively specified smartphones from Motorola in years. There’s more to get excited about here than yet another Motorola One or Moto G, to be frank.

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